The gigantic Ninety Mile Beach meth stash was already “imported” by the time Selaima Fakaosilea got involved.
That’s what Fakaosilea’s lawyer Greg Bradford told the Court of Appeal today, as his client appealed against her conviction and her 12-and-a-half year jail sentence.
Fakaosilea, a close relative of former All Black winger Jonah Lomu, denied importing methamphetamine and participating in an organised criminal group.
But after a seven-week trial at the High Court in Whangārei, jurors found her guilty.
Bradford told the appeal court in Auckland his client’s jail term, and her minimum imprisonment period of seven years, were excessive.
“It was a crushing sentence, in any event.”
He also told the court it was wrong for Fakaosilea to be convicted of drug importation, since the drugs were already in New Zealand when she got involved.
In June 2016, police found 449kg of methamphetamine in a campervan at Totara North. Another 52kg was found buried in sand dunes on Ninety Mile Beach.
The total haul was the biggest in New Zealand history. The drugs had a street value worth potentially hundreds of millions of dollars.
Bradford said his client first assisted the drug conspiracy on June 5 in 2016, well after the “motherboat” arrived, and was not a primary offender in the case.
Fakaosilea’s co-defendant Stevie Norua Cullen was sentenced to 27 years’ jail but with a minimum term of nine years.
The Crown at the trial claimed Cullen looked after logistics and “held the fort” for the syndicate in Northland.
Fakaosilea’s defence was she was not in Northland when the drugs came ashore and she had no knowledge of the drug importation.
Bradford said if a patrol boat found a drug-smuggling vessel within New Zealand waters, those in control of the drugs would be charged with possession for supply.
He said an exception to this could be if those on board actually admitted bringing illicit drugs into New Zealand waters.
“It does seem clear that the boat was in New Zealand well before the 5th of June,” Justice Forrie Miller told the court.
For the Crown, James Carruthers said Fakaosilea was a trusted member of the organised criminal group.
“No-one was in error in proceeding on the basis that the importation continued at least until the drugs landed on the beach,” he said.
“The introduction of drugs can’t be affected unless they actually make it ashore or land in New Zealand,” Carruthers added.
“On the whole, she seems to have been an important part of one or more organised criminal groups for the better part of a year.”
The Crown previously argued Fakaosilea organised hire vehicles, the transportation of two Asian men to the Far North and satellite phones.
The Court of Appeal reserved its decision, meaning it will publish its judgment on the appeal in due course.
Fakaosilea thanked Bradford and waved at her supporters from the dock as the hearing ended.
Additional reporting: NZME
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